Gov. Sam Brownback in his state of the state speech tonight touched on themes of Kansas as an American renaissance, referring to Kansas as a leader in reducing the tax burden, while also saying his plan had restored fiscal responsibility to the state.
The governor said the state had reduced the unemployment rate and increased personal wealth for families.
He discussed his proposal for funding all-day kindergarten in the state, as previously only a half-day has been funded. He also mentioned a reading initiative as well as an effort to pay for all technical education programs in the state taken by high school students.
He proposed an additional $2 million for moderate income housing to address a rural housing shortage, and another initiative to bring more doctors to the rural areas.
Brownback also emphasized planning for the future with a comprehensive water strategy to be discussed this year.
In an apparent reference to the Kansas Supreme Court’s impending decision on the school finance lawsuit, Brownback said: “On the No. 1 item in the state budget – education – the Constitution empowers the Legislature – the people’s representatives – to fund our schools . … Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else.”
Weaving religious themes through the speech, the governor also asked forgiveness for the state’s mistakes of the past, such as segregated schools and the Trail of Tears.
“Today, the nation dithers while the path forward seems uncharted,” Brownback said. “America can’t decide which way to go. Yet, the path forward is clear. Kansas is leading an American renaissance – a return to the virtual and character that built this state and a great nation in the first place.”
Some details were not discussed yet, such as where the funding would come from to pay for the all-day kindergarten funding.
In a Democratic response to the governor’s speech, House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, also a candidate for governor, said he was concerned about kids, the stalled economy and the damage the governor’s policies are doing.
Speaking from his old grade school, Hillcrest Elementary, where his mother taught school, Davis said the governor’s plan is leading the state in the wrong direction. He said there were 16,000 fewer Kansans working than when the governor took office. He said class sizes were growing, teachers had been laid off by the thousands and it’s now more expensive to send kids to state colleges.
Davis said senior citizens on fixed incomes are seeing their budgets stretched by skyrocketing property taxes going up in 86 of 105 counties. Sales taxes also went up in some areas to take the place of funds that are not coming in because of income tax cuts.
Davis said the governor’s experiment with income tax cuts announced two years ago was not working. He said the tax burden is being shifted to working families.
Noting that his daughter was about ready to start school, Davis said, “this is personal to me” and said that his daughter’s and other children’s future was at stake. “They deserve to walk into class like this one with the resources they need to succeed. Strong schools are the very foundation of a strong economy.”
Generations of leaders are molded in the schools, and “we must invest in them,” he said.
He called for “smart government,” a moderate common-sense approach to achieve balance between high-quality schools and low taxes.
“If we can’t get the Kansas economy back to a place where it works for everybody, very soon, it won’t work for anybody,” Davis said.